November 19, 2013

The Sufi Choir, “23rd Psalm” (1973)

Born of privilege (a Rothschild pedigree and a father who was a vice president of Levi Strauss manufacturing), Samuel L. Lewis was one of the more colorful American mystics, who, at the end of his life, shifted from preparing himself for enlightenment to ushering in a new age of enlightenment. Recovering from a heart attack in 1967, Lewis had a vision that would determine his remaining years. God came to Lewis and said: “I make you the spiritual leader of the hippies.” And so he did. Lewis then developed and taught the Dances of Universal Peace throughout California. In 1969, followers of Lewis formed the Sufi Choir in San Francisco and became part of his mission.  The original director of the Sufi Choir, William Allaudin Mathieu, had worked previously with Duke Ellington in arrangement and composition.

In this rendition of the 23rd Psalm, the universalism is thick. For here is a tambourine-laden, psychedelic campfire mash-up that seeks to distill the universal message from a text heretofore recognized for its sacred particularity.

November 19, 2013

Ethel Waters, “Crying Holy Unto the Lord” (1965)

“Crying Holy Unto the Lord” became a staple of the bluegrass circuit and was sung by the likes of Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs. Here we have Waters standing on the rock of Moses, crying out, subjunctively, and establishing an intimate relationship to the father and the son. She seeks intimacy and she achieves it to the degree that she is capable of communicating with sinners. Missionizing to and toying with, Waters gets her message across.

In the last lines, we have Waters riffing over the infectious rhythm and offering an object lesson to those who seek to escape the conditions of their shared being. She encourages sinners to run to the rock and hide their faces, all for the purpose of revealing to them that there is no hiding place after all.

You should have known this from the beginning.